Sailing the British Virgin Islands (Again) ~ Day 8 and 9

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Return to Road Harbour, Tortola

Parting View

Up early and a quick breakfast before everyone packs up their bags, stows all gear, and prepares to take off, back to Road Harbour in plenty of time to check our boat back in, unload our stuff and get Rick and Mary back to the airport in time for their 12:30 flight out.

No chance for a sail back as the seas and wind seem to make a repeat performance of our first two wickedly windy days out. It takes us about 90 minutes to cross the channel and we head directly into Road Harbour and the marina. We call ahead to Sunsail and a crew memeber meets our boat at the end of one of the docks to perform the tricky maneuvers to back the boat into the slip, which he does with ease while Anne lets out the anchor.

Within an hour, we’ve unloaded the boat, stripped the linens, taken out the trash, turned stuff in to the Sunsail office and had our boat de-briefing. Before you know it, were all piled into a taxi for the short ride into town where Jenny, Anne, Karen and I are dropped off at our hotel, Maria by the Sea. Hugs all around and Rick and Mary continue on to the airport.

We collapse with our luggage in the breezeway of the hotel lobby. Reading commences while we wait for our room to be ready. Karen and I walk over to Bobby’s Market (where our boat provisions came from) a substantial grocery store that’s a beehive of activity. We buy a bottle of wine to enjoy on the balcony of our room and take a short walk, wending our way around the traffic circles, back to our hotel.

We have lunch in the open-air restaurant at the hotel, then up to our room to repack our bags and shower. We spend the afternoon relaxing on the balcony, reading and enjoying the surf below and the full view of the harbour, where the water is every color of blue and green. We open the final bottle wine at cocktail time and enjoy it on the balcony overlooking Road Harbour before walking over to Spaghetti Junction for dinner. We sit in the same open air dining room we were in just a week ago, with a view of the Sunsail dock to our right. Dinner is a delicious plate of frutti di mar (shrimp, scallops and lobster) pasta in creme sauce and a very nice bottle of white wine from, of all places, Tasmania.

Road Harbour Balcony

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Return to Chicago

Up with the sun again, watching it rise over Tortola as the first ferry of the day leaves the harbor. I’m listening to the surf below as I finish up these notes, waiting to shower and pack up before breakfast. The dueling roosters from the poultry family in the lot next door continue to crow the morning alarm and our farewell. It’s been another amazing week in the islands.

Last Day, Overlooking Road Harbour


Sailing the British Virgin Islands (Again) ~ Day 7

Friday, 16 April 2010

Key Cay to Kelly’s Cove, Norman Island

Kelly's Cove

Kelly’s Cove, Norman Island

I’m up early to catch the sunrise over the cay. We breakfast on deck, taking in more of the BVI panorama around us. Stowed and ready to go, we head out into the Drake Channel to sail over to Tortola and pick up ice. Our refrigerator has stopped working, so we need lots of ice to keep our provisions cold for our final day aboard.

The sail across the channel is another wild ride with both sails up in strong wind. It takes a couple of hours and then we wend our way first into Sea Cow Bay (Not deep enough! Turn around!) and then Nanny Cay, where we make a harrowing landing at the marina with a strong wind blowing us away from the dock. With help from two guys from shore and all hands on deck, it takes 15 minutes of pulling and maneuvering to get us tied up safely. All this for four bags of ice!

Thirty minutes later we’re back in the channel, heading into the direction we came from to find a quiet location for lunch, preferably out of the wind, but that seems impossible at this point, given the weather this past week. Sails up again and we’re beating over to the back side of Peter Island. Along the way, in the middle of the channel, we see a large sea turtle bobbing around and poking his head out of the water. We pass by last night’s anchorage at Key Cay and head over to White Beach to find a spot for lunch.

White Beach, Peter Island Our anchorage, though relatively calm, is still windy and we swing 180-degrees back-and-forth while we eat our lunch of kitchen sink tortellini salad (leftover steak and chicken, salami, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts) washed down with Red Stripes. Delicious after a morning in the wind and sun.

Conditions are too strong and the wind is out of the wrong direction to do much more sailing after lunch, so we head over to our final overnight spot to see if there are any cans available just outside The Bight on Norman Island. We’re in luck and snag one of the few moorings in Kelly’s Cove, a beautiful spot just at the mouth of the harbor. Night life in The Bight can get wild and crazy, but in this sequestered location, with room for just five boats, you’d never know.

We sit about 50 yards off the rocky coast, where pelicans perch in trees and kingfishers swoop back and forth. The crystalline blue water promises good snorkeling and Jen quickly dives in to check out the underwater view. Reading, napping, and lazing about for the rest of us commences.

Final Sunset

Around five, we light the grill for dinner and mix up a batch of gin & tonics while we prepare a hamburger dinner with sides created by raiding the galley to use up as much of our remaining provisions as we can. By 6:30, as the sun is setting over the Sir Frances Drake Channel, we enjoy the last few bottles of wine while watching the changing colors of dusk into twilight.

Sailing the British Virgin Islands (Again) ~ Day 6

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Little Harbour, Jost van Dyke to Key Cay

Provisioning and Watering Up at Soper's HoleSoper’s Hole

Strong winds out in the channel cause us to change our plans—again. Rather than return to Cane Garden Bay to re-water, we decide to stop on the way. We motor across the channel, around the point and into Soper’s Hole where we spin around the harbor for half an hour waiting for a spot to open up at the gas dock.

Soper's HoleSoper’s Hole is bright and sunny, colorful buildings hugging the steep hillside. We pull into the dock and while the boat’s water tanks are topped off, Karen, Jenny and I go ashore to purchase ice and a few extras from the well-stocked waterfront market. Back on board and ready to go, we decide to hang out for lunch and take a mooring ball in the harbor where we can enjoy our meal before heading out. Brief rain showers call for us to raise the bimini for protection as we munch on sandwiches topside, listening to the goats on the hill and the sound of a nearby shipyard.

Continuing on our way, we raise the jib to sail through the Drake Channel, along the south side of Tortola. Our destination is Key Cay on the opposite side of Peter Island, a location that promises solitude. The sail is nice, with gently rolling seas. We pull into Key Cay, a gorgeous spot with only two other boats in sight. We drop anchor and take in the view, 360-degrees of green island, blue water, open sky, and very little sign of civilization. This is my ideal.

Key CayKey Point in Key Cay

Breezes blow strong at times but in a favorable direction, making this tranquil location perfect for an overnight. The view of the cay is a keeper. Reading and cocktails commence as Anne and Jenny prepare grilled chicken for dinner. Before dining, Anne takes Mary and Karen on a spin around the cove as the sun begins to descend. We all enjoy the light on the cloudscapes as the sun sets.

Sunset over Sir Francis Drake Channel

We devour our meal. Spending all day in the open elements, no matter how relaxing, really works up an appetite. After dinner, over a bottle of wine, the captain entertains his crew with card tricks. We break out the star chart and pick out southern constellations until it’s time for bed.

Sailing the British Virgin Islands (Again) ~ Day 5

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Cane Garden Bay to Little Harbour, Jost van Dyke

Sandy CayApproaching Sandy Cay

What a terrific day.

After a tasty breakfast prepared by the captain of eggs, cheese, black beans, and hot sauce wrapped in tortillas, Mary, Karen, Anne, and I go ashore to re-provision at the grocery store. We find nearly everything on our list in a small but well-stocked Bobby’s Market. After buying three bags of ice at another shop, we walk the short distance back to the dinghy dock, passing about ten strutting roosters on the way.

Back on the water and out in the channel, seas are the calmest we’ve seen and we put up both sails, hoping to get in some sailing before lunch. Alas, no, there’s just no wind, so after about an hour, we take them down and motor over to Sandy Cay for lunch.

LunchWe anchor in an absolutely gorgeous spot. The island is tiny, the beaches white, and the surf brilliant blue on black rocks. Palm trees and soaring pelicans complete the picture of an idyllic desert island. The water is every shade of blue, ending in vibrant turquoise close to shore. The sea and the wind are calm, so we decide to try lighting the grill for lunch. After a series of unsuccessful attempts, its clearly the charcoal just won’t light. Luckily, we have a stash that’s drier.

Rick and Jenny cool off with a dip in the ocean off the back of the boat while I grill our hot dog feast. We eat lunch, drinking Red Stripes and marveling at the view, so gorgeous and picture perfect, it’s hard to believe it’s real.

After lunch, we all go ashore, some of us to explore, others to swim and sit on the beach. I want to take some photographs, so I zip up my camera in double Ziploc bags for the short dinghy ride to the beach. Up close, the tiny island loses some of its lushness, looking scrubbier with only the occasional palm tree, but the view from this vantage is just as nice. I shoot many photos of our boat anchored just off shore, as well as the beach, surf and the birds as Rick, Mary, Karen, and I walk around to the other side of the cay.

Pelican Rock

Pelican RockWe come across a colony of pelicans, some skimming the surface of the breaking waves, some fishing, and others drying off and grooming on the rocks above the surf. After about an hour, we turn back when it looks like there might be a change in the weather coming our way. We alter our plans to overnight at Little Jost van Dyke island, instead cruising toward a stop from last year’s trip, Little Harbour on the big brother island of Jost Van Dyke. Very few boats are there, so we take our pick of mooring balls and quickly set up camp. It’s quiet here. Just the occasional bray from a small herd of goats on the nearby hillside.

The view is very pleasant and we all relax in the usual afternoon way—napping and reading—as one-by-one the crew takes showers and prepares for the rigors of cocktail hour. Sipping gin and tonics, we watch the sunset reflect off the tall clouds traveling east to west down the channel between us and Tortola. For the next hour, we’re completely entertained by cloud formations and soaring magnificent frigate birds.


After sunset, before darkness descends completely, we dinghy over to Sidney’s Peace and Love, a favorite restaurant from our last trip, where we once again enjoy a fantastic meal of fresh lobster. We remember the drill from before and a few of us jump into action, acting as bartenders for the group at the “do it yourself” bar. Dinner at Sidney’s takes a while—it’s made to order on “island time”—but the view, as the lights come up in the quiet harbor, and the company keeps us entertained.

Sailing the British Virgin Islands (Again) ~ Day 4

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Marina Cay to Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

Marina Cay Dock

Up with the sun to close the hatches during a brief rain shower. Snoozed a bit more until Captain Rick appeared around 6:30 to light the stove and fire up the coffee. The regular morning ritual begins, as folks get up one-by-one and greet the day, stumbling deckside with coffee cup in hand to have breakfast with the island view bobbing around us.

Filling the Water TanksAt the Marina Cay dock we replenish our water supply, having already drained one of the water tanks. Then, we head out and make our way through the passage between Little and Great Camanoe Islands and over to cruise along the north side of Tortola.

A beautiful day of motor-sailing begins with a brief cruise down to Monkey Point on Guana Island, where we drop anchor for lunch. Just a handful of boats are there. On the other side of the point you can see the cave in Monkey Point, snorkelers bobbing around in the protected area near the rocks.

After ten minutes of futility, we give up on starting the grill—the one consistent difficulty on the trip. Everything needed to start the fire—the matches, scraps of paper and even the Match Light charcoal—seems damp. Hopeless.

Monkey Point on Guana IslandMonkey Point

Mary cooks our hot dog lunch on the stove and we enjoy our meal with a new view. Before picking up anchor and continuing on our way to Cane Garden Bay, we decide to take a little sightseeing tour over to the cave on Monkey Point.

It’s here that we perform our most bone-headed move.

Only after we’ve all climbed into the dinghy and let go of the rope to the Sunnyside do we realize the dinghy’s outboard motor doesn’t have nearly the horsepower it needs to transport one, let alone six passengers. We slowly begin to drift away from the boat and out to sea while Anne madly tries to throttle the boat forward.

Luckily we’re able to get enough forward momentum (against the wind, no less) to putt-putt us back to the stern of our boat. We grab on and quickly hop out of the dinghy laughing. Whew, a close call.

Lesson learned: Have a couple of people test the dinghy motor in a protected area before you all climb in and drift away.

Up anchor and we’re off. We pop up the jib, turn off the motor, and enjoy the view of Tortola’s north side as we float past. The green hillsides, rocky shore and blue crashing water make for a tranquil afternoon sail. The seas are calmer today, rolling along in our direction.

Sailing Along the North Side of Tortola Island

As we approach Cane Garden Bay, all eyes strain to see the red channel marker that points the way to safe entry into the bay…only, it’s nowhere to be seen! We creep into the bay, careful to avoid the reef on the right. Cane Garden Bay is already crowded, most cans taken by boats participating in a regatta. After one failed attempt to pick up a buoy (our first) we snag one closer to shore, hoping for less rock and roll during the night.

Beers all around!

A leisurely afternoon spent napping and reading as the boat sways back and forth, giving us multiple views of the island. We make a call to Sunsail to have someone look at the dinghy motor and a few hours later, a mechanic shows up and swaps out the dud.

We motor to the dinghy dock on shore, tie up and walk a short distance to find a great spot for dinner, The Big Banana located right on the beach. We enjoy the sunset over the bay as we toast two-for-one painkillers (the BVI’s signature rum drink) and a delicious dinner of fresh fish, pasta, and barbecue.

Painkillers All Around!Two for one, pain killers all around.

We motor back to the boat in the dark, headlamps lighting our way between boats in the harbour. The lit up masts of the race boats provide an interesting new backdrop, like bobbing antenna towers. A few hours of chatting over a bottle of wine and stargazing before we all turn in around ten.

Sunset Over Cane Garden BaySunset over Cane Garden Bay.

Sailing the British Virgin Islands (Again) ~ Day 3

Monday, 12 April 2010

Great Harbour, Peter Island to Marina Cay

Marina Cay 

Phone Home from Marina Cay

Up early. Lots of bobbing and bouncing during the night. The wind doesn’t seem to have abated much.

The skies are more sun than clouds. Tall, white puffy clouds float along from east to west. The island goats are out for an early breakfast as are the ever-present pelicans. We enjoy a breakfast of bananas, bagels, oatmeal, and coffee as the sun lifts in the sky, warming  the wind. Sunlight illuminates the turquoise blue of the water around the island. We clean the kitchen, stow gear, and check the radio for the weather report.

Conditions for the next two days call for a small craft advisory with winds 12-15 knots and seas seven feet high; not ideal for the amount of sailing (meaning the distance) that we want to accomplish for the day.

About 8:30 a.m., we drop our mooring and head into the Drake Channel for what will prove to be a wild ride to Marina Cay. Conditions call for us to change our plans—a sail all the way to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda would take too long and be far too bouncy for some of us with weaker stomachs. As it is, the sail to Marina Cay (about half our original intended distance) takes four hours of sailing as close to the wind as we can, tacking our way back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.

We raise only the jib and that’s plenty of sail for us. Wind gusts top out at 22-24 knots (around 28 mph) and the waves are seven-feet at times. Most boats we see under sail are doing the same and many aren’t sailing at all, opting to motor their way along. Lots of up and down over breaking waves and everyone is covered in sea spray. An occasional slap in the face with a wave brings laughter and applause from the crew. Jen is soaked sitting in her favorite perch up on the bow, getting the most out of the ride.

Four hours later (my mind-over-stomach limit) we enter calmer waters as we round Beef Island and come into Marina Cay to the mooring field next alongside Mother Turtle Reef. We’ve returned to one of my favorite spots in the BVIs. Once again, we’ve got a fantastic view of Beef Island across the water, the face of the island constantly changing as sunlight and clouds play over the green mountain and the variations in blue of the reef. The calming sound of waves breaking over the reef provides a soothing background soundtrack.

View of Beef Island from Our Mooring at Marina Cay

After a recovery lunch snacking on cheese, salami and veggies, everyone crashes for a nap or relaxes on deck to enjoy the view or read. The wind finally calms a bit and we stop the rocking and swaying for the first time in many hours.

Around 4:30, cocktails are served and Captain Rick begins preparations for dinner. After a good 20 minutes, we finally manage to light the coals. It takes three of us, two to block the strong winds with a towel.

Marina Cay

Our dinner of grilled chicken, rice and corn on the cob is delicious and the hungry crew devours it in no time. It’s amazing how being out doors and in the elements all day can bring on a hearty appetite. We break out another bottle of wine, chatting as the setting sun illuminates the tall cumulous clouds and small puff balls in the west turning them vivid shades of pink, orange and purple. By 7:30, it’s pitch black out and the sky once again is filled with stars. The crew turns in by nine.

Sailing the British Virgin Islands (Again) ~ Day 2

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Road Harbour, Tortola to Great Harbour, Peter Island

Peter Island

Great Harbour, Peter Island

Not the most restful night on board, everyone is up early with the sun. We shower on shore at the Sunsail marina facilities and grab snorkel and fins on our way back to the boat.

At 8:30 a.m., a Sunsail employee named Julian arrives to give us our boat briefing. There are far fewer questions this go around, since this is our second charter and we’re already familiar with many of the basics. The briefing works as a good refresher and when Julian’s done, a mechanic arrives to repair a leak in the propane tank, discovered during our walk through.

They Really Pack The Boats In

At 9:30, our captain (Rick) and the first mate (Jenny) head over to the Captain’s Meeting, a briefing of weather, news, location info, do’s and dont’s given by Sunsail before each fleet of new charters sail out for the day.

Meanwhile, our delivery of provisions from the local supermarket arrives and Anne, Mary, Karen, and I take care of counting, loading and stowing everything away. The order was placed online a week earlier and constitutes the majority of food, drink and supplies we’ll need on board for the week. A couple of stops at the grocery stores in ports along the way are planned as needed.

After a quick lunch, we get underway, heading out into the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Winds are quite strong and the seas are unusually full of large swells, so we abandon our plan to stop at the Indians and head directly for our first overnight spot, Peter Island.

TailgatersWith gusts around 24 knots, we don’t raise the sail—the ride is eventful enough as it is. A quick spin around our intended overnight spot, Little Harbour, reveals that, due to the weather, all the anchored boats have tethered their sterns to the shore to keep from swinging around. Rather than challenge ourselves on the first day at sea with a new maneuver we’ve only read about, we head over to Great Harbour and pick up a mooring ball near the beach. There are about 18 boats spread out in the harbor. It’s quiet, except for the wind and we’re immediately entertained by the pelicans soaring, circling and diving into the ocean.

Red Stripes (our official Caribbean boat beer) all around. We’ve arrived! A relaxing afternoon is spent chatting and enjoying the view as the boat swings this way and that.

Karen and I have the first dinner crew so we get to work in the galley chopping up veggies for our fajita dinner. Lighting the grill that hangs off the back of the boat is always a challenge in the win;d Karen and Jenny provide a screen with a towel until the coals get going. We grill up the veggies and flank steak and dinner is served topside, as are all meals throughout the week.

Looking for Handouts
We eat early, having learned last year that the sun sets early on the equator and it’s no fun grilling dinner in the dark on a boat. After dinner, we spend a few hours chatting, drinking wine, and enjoying the view. Before we turn in, the clouds clear, revealing a mass of stars overhead. We can make out the constellations canis minor, orion and vela.

Sailing the British Virgin Islands (Again) ~ Day 1

The dead of winter seems like a good time to play catch-up and post the travel notes and photos from my sailing vacation in the BVIs last April. So, here goes.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Chicago to Road Town, Tortola BVI

Up early and off to the airport. An uneventful, easy flight, the entire crew of six flying down together. The hour layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico gives us enough time to have a snack at the bar before our 40 minute island-hopping flight over to the British Virgin Islands. Touchdown, Beef Island.

After the taxi ride to the marina, we’re instantly escorted to our boat, a “43” called Sunnyside. Everyone aboard, scrambling over the deck and loading bags down below.

A quick check reveals the loss of four feet (from last year’s boat) doesn’t much effect the space in the main cabin, though storage is at more of a premium.

After unpacking, we take a taxi into Road Town for dinner at the ridiculously named Spaghetti Junction, sitting on an open-air terrace overlooking a marina. A couple of bottles of wine over a leisurely meal of delicious Italian and seafood and we’re officially on “Island Time.”

Back at the boat, it’s not long before we all turn in. It’s been a long day of travel and we’ll be up early tomorrow for the boat briefing and provisioning.

Sometimes My Computer Makes Me Want to Hurl (It Through a Window)

For some unknown reason, the book and calendar projects that I had in my iPhoto program (created last December) have disappeared. A slight amount of panic was followed by a sick feeling as I discovered that the Time Machine backup program has not backed up iPhoto as I thought it was. This means the books I created about JD for her 3rd birthday are gone gone gone and I'm p-i-s-s-e-d. Folks wanted to order copies of them and now what little $$$ I would have made off this labor of love will be completely eaten up by my having to recreate these projects.

Like I have time for this now.

And after all that, it still doesn't explain how they went missing in the first place. I'm just sick about it. If my attempt to retrieve them from the cloud doesn't work, I'll make a last ditch call to Apple to find out if they can be of any help. But I'm not holding my breath.

And none of this is what I intended to blog about in the first place. I meant to say hello, I'm back, safe and sound from our sailing adventure. We had a fantastic time challenged by stronger-than-usual winds and lots of waves. The weather altered our itinerary a bit but the nice thing about sailing down there is you can be flexible and find another beautiful spot to drop anchor no matter where the wind takes you.

I took about 800 photos that I'll get to in who knows when and I shot a lot more video than last time, so that will be fun to play with in the coming months. All in all, it was a relaxing and wonderful time, filled with wind, sun, the call of laughing gulls, the splash of pelicans diving for fish, the gentle (and not so gentle) roll of the tide, and gorgeous sunsets painting tall clouds as they floated by from east to west over the ocean.

These are images that will carry me through the coming weeks and months.